One 4- to 5-pound chicken, giblets and neck removed
Yield:4 TO 6 SERVINGS
Under the salt dome, chicken steams and roasts all at once, resulting in an impossibly juicy bird, not well browned but quite tasty and not nearly as salty as you might expect. The grape leaves impart a delicate, earthy taste and make desalting the bird much easier. Use kosher salt, a coarse-grained salt that, paradoxically, adheres to a compact dough.
Position the rack in the lower third of the oven; preheat the oven to 350°F.
Stir the salt and water in a large bowl to form a thick, doughlike paste. Place 3 cups in the bottom of a large roasting pan, patting it out to about 5 inches larger than the chicken. Pack down, then cover completely with a double layer of overlap- ping grape leaves (perhaps 15 in total), leaving a 1-inch border of salt at the edges.
Place the lemon quarters, bay leaves, and peppercorns inside the chicken, then truss the bird with butcher's twine
Place the chicken on the grape-leaf bed, then cover the chicken with the remaining grape leaves, leaving no exposed holes. Fold up any exposed leaves on the grape-leaf bed to meet those already on the chicken.
Gently mound the remaining salt dough onto the leaves, thereby covering the chicken but taking care not to disturb the leaves. Mold the salt mixture to the bird's shape. Seal any and all cracks by wetting your hands and patting the salt in place.
Roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the thigh registers 160°F (our preference) or 175°F (the USDA recommendation), about 1 hour and 30 minutes to 1 hour and 45 minutes (see Note). Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. (In this case, the internal temperature will rise in the salt dome as the chicken sits.)
Whack the crust a couple of times with a meat mallet to break it. Carefully remove the pieces, making sure they don't crumble into the meat. Remove and discard the grape leaves, lemon wedges, bay leaves, and peppercorns; transfer the chicken to a board for carving.
Note: To test for doneness, push an instant-read thermometer into the chicken through the salt crust, eyeing where the thigh is through the crust itself. If you're unsure of placement, make a little fi nger indention in the crust as you're shaping it to show you where to guide the thermometer in. Or use an old-fashioned, oven-safe probe. Once the chicken is covered in the leaves, insert the probe into the thickest section of the thigh through the leaves, then build the salt crust over the bird and around the probe, leaving its display sticking outside the crust, which should hold it in place while the chicken roasts.
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